Lord Polak debates involving the Home Office

There have been 17 exchanges involving Lord Polak and the Home Office

Wed 10th February 2021 Domestic Abuse Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (326 words)
Mon 1st February 2021 Domestic Abuse Bill (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (795 words)
Mon 25th January 2021 Domestic Abuse Bill (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (804 words)
Tue 5th January 2021 Domestic Abuse Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (561 words)
Wed 2nd December 2020 Security Co-operation (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (87 words)
Wed 25th November 2020 Leaseholders and Cladding (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (127 words)
Thu 12th November 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (110 words)
Tue 27th October 2020 Domestic Abuse: Protection of Victims (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (81 words)
Wed 21st October 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (263 words)
Mon 5th October 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (352 words)
Mon 14th September 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (242 words)
Thu 9th July 2020 Covid-19: Churches and Places of Worship (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (96 words)
Mon 29th June 2020 Covid-19: Domestic Abuse (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (83 words)
Thu 28th February 2019 Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2019 (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (638 words)
Tue 31st October 2017 Hamas (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (80 words)
Thu 22nd June 2017 Terrorist Attacks (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (100 words)
Wed 14th September 2016 Hate Crime (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (100 words)

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(3 weeks ago)

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Lord Strasburger Portrait Lord Strasburger (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group but I will focus my remarks on Amendment 167, to which I have added my name. This is a good Bill and it contains many well thought out provisions to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but it deals almost exclusively with the support of those victims after the abuse has occurred. That is commendable, but it is not enough. Surely we also need measures to stop abuse happening, so that there are fewer victims and there is less harm done to them and their children.

Amendment 167 focuses on the perpetrator rather than the victim to prevent repeat occurrences with the same victim or, as often happens, with fresh victims. If we want to reduce domestic abuse, we need to change the focus. Instead of asking “Why doesn’t she leave?”, we should be asking “Why doesn’t he stop?” We should be changing the dynamics of abusive relationships, making it clear that responsibility lies with the perpetrators of domestic violence and giving them tools to deal with their behaviour.

We already know, and we have heard again today, that high-quality interventions can substantially reduce or even stop violence and coercive control, which leads to happier and safer lives for victims, their children, and future generations. Amendment 167 calls for urgent research on the assessment and identification of perpetrators. Domestic violence does not come from nowhere. It often builds over time until outbursts of violence become commonplace. For example, we already know that non-fatal strangulation is a common signal of future, more serious violence and even murder. This research should lead to an increasing number of high-quality rehabilitation programmes, which should be checked for quality and based on best practice. The opportunity to make use of such a programme should no longer be a postcode lottery based on whether an appropriate charity is funded in your area. It currently amounts to a postcode lottery as to whether the one or two women who will be killed this week by their partner will be you, your daughter, your sister or your mum.

We should be ambitious in tackling the foothills of domestic abuse issues. Specialist work that challenges abusive attitudes and behaviours should be part of every school curriculum, so that every child knows what an abusive relationship looks like. We can teach the next generation to recognise the warning signs, so that they can avoid ever entering into such a relationship —either as an abuser or a victim. For those children who know all too well what domestic abuse looks like, we can give them the vocabulary and a place to talk about it, and chances to seek help to stop it.

We know that working with perpetrators brings success. The University of Bristol’s three-year study of over 500 cases, as we have heard earlier, shows an 82% drop in physical abuse and an 88% drop in sexual abuse. Similar dramatic drops in stalking and controlling behaviours are also seen after high-quality perpetrator programmes.

Domestic abuse leads to whole families living with the constant presence of fear at home. It leads to victims in a constant state of high alert, concealing physical and emotional damage, terrified almost every moment of every day, but with nowhere else to go. It leads to children feeling frightened, powerless, confused and angry, and their taking responsibility for events over which they have no control. They are unable to concentrate at school, unable to make friends, afraid to go home and afraid not to.

Domestic abuse leads to abusers feeling that the only way they know of staving off loneliness is to carry on controlling, beating, hurting, screaming, shouting and threatening, because no one who had a choice would ever live with them. Perpetrator intervention can reduce and even eliminate this pain, violence and death which leaks from relationship to relationship and generation to generation. We know this and now we have the chance to act on it. Amendment 167 is that chance, and I hope the Government will accept it into this Bill.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, one is always left stunned and moved when listening to my noble friend Lady Newlove. I rise to support Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and others. I congratulate her on her clear and persuasive introduction.

As I said last week when moving Amendment 176 in my own name, to truly tackle domestic abuse we must be bold. We need to take a holistic, whole-family approach, with targeted interventions to support adult victims to rebuild their lives, to support children experiencing domestic abuse and to ensure that perpetrators have access to quality programmes to prevent offending and reoffending. It is the quality programmes for perpetrators that Amendment 167 is addressing.

We know from MARAC data that there are at least 53,000 high-harm perpetrators in England and Wales at any given time. We know too that the Drive project which noble Lords have spoken about, set up by Respect, SafeLives and Social Finance, is probably the best-funded perpetrator intervention programme. It has suggested that it is working with just over 2,000 of the highest-harm perpetrators who pose a risk of murder or serious physical harm. It is important, it is praiseworthy and it is life-saving work, but 2,000 out of 53,000 is not even scratching the surface. As my noble friend Lady Newlove explained, so many are in danger now.

This timely and vitally important Bill is very welcome and has so much support, but this amendment is crucial. It is crucial that efforts are made to improve and enhance current perpetrator programmes, but it is also crucial to dramatically increase the number of programmes. I look to my noble friend the Minister to find a way to welcome this amendment, as it will enhance this vital legislation. As my noble friend Lady Bertin rightly said, it has support not only across this House but from countless organisations on the front line, from children’s organisations to the police, LEAs and—perhaps most tellingly—survivors themselves.

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am also pleased to speak in support of Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin. I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Polak in his encouragements for this amendment to be made law, particularly because of the emphasis on prevention as well as perpetrators in the strategy. It is essential to focus adequately on perpetrators, but this is late intervention. It needs to be properly matched with a root-and-branch approach to early intervention, preventing, where possible, the precursors to violence and abuse from developing into full-blown perpetration.

There is very little mention of prevention in the Bill as it currently stands, yet adopting a prevention paradigm is indispensable for reducing the staggeringly high levels of domestic abuse reported in this country over the long term. This requires acknowledging that in this area of policy, as in so many others, people cannot be treated as individuals, because their identity, health and well-being fundamentally depend on their relationships. As well as being a crime, domestic abuse is a problem with a relationship or set of relationships, and if we are ever to get ahead of its dreadful curve, a cross-government approach to strengthening families before, during and after abuse occurs is utterly foundational.

I could substantiate this in very many ways. The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, when she led the Government’s troubled families programme, highlighted the ubiquity of domestic violence in the families being helped. Evidence suggests that the most powerful contributors to domestic abuse in our society are rooted in the relationships people have and are witnesses to when they are young. This needs to be addressed in a prevention paradigm. Childhood exposure to domestic violence and child physical abuse are two of the most powerful predictors of both perpetrating and receiving domestic abuse as an adult. Domestic violence between parents increases the likelihood of violence in their children’s later relationships by 189%. The public understand this. Polling carried out by the Centre for Social Justice, albeit in 2011, found that most of the population—73% of adults—think that if we want to tackle domestic abuse, we have to recognise that many perpetrators have themselves been victims of abuse.

Childhood neglect can mean that individuals enter adult life unable to regulate their emotions and communicate with others. They often have intrusive memories of violence, think badly about themselves or others and are at risk of struggling profoundly when they become partners and parents. Obviously, there are other cultural influences, such as misogyny and enduring beliefs that it is okay, under certain circumstances, to resolve arguments with violence. These can be tackled also with social marketing. In Hull, they put up posters with slogans such as “Real Men Don’t Hit Women”.

Low income is consistently associated with, and indeed worsened by, domestic abuse. Victims’ ability to work is hampered by psychological and physical effects, and restricting their access to work is a form of abuse of economic control. Money worries make conflict about finances more likely to trigger aggression. It can also threaten men’s identity where lack of money is associated with lack of male power. Men denied power through social status can seek it in violence, social control and subjugation of women.

Alcohol and drugs are also massive drivers. In almost two-fifths of domestic violence incidents, the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol; in one-fifth of cases, under the influence of drugs; and sometimes, both. Substances hamper social and problem-solving skills and the ability to control emotions and they lower inhibitions, but the link between alcohol and violence is socially learned. This and the other factors cited above, including adversity in childhood, are never excuses; they simply help to explain. Many men and women with the most desperate back stories never resort to abuse. They may even determine to alchemise adversity into kindness towards themselves and others.

Finally, if we are to prevent revictimisation, we have to recognise that victims are often unable to break free of the psychological drivers embedded in their past experiences. These can contribute to them becoming enmeshed in an abusive relationship in the first place, and help explain why they feel so ambivalent towards the perpetrator and end up in other abusive relationships. Between 40% and 56% of women experiencing domestic abuse have had a previously abusive relationship. In one study, 66% of refuge residents had previously left and returned to their abusive partner; 97% of these women had done so on multiple occasions. These are sobering statistics because the impact of abusive relationships is cumulative; so much of the harm associated with domestic abuse is due to multiple victimisation.

I hope that I have given the Government a steer as to what a prevention strategy would look like. It would acknowledge the effects of low income, substance misuse and culture, but primarily focus on early intervention in families and be explicit about the relational character of domestic abuse. It would highlight the role of family hubs as places people can go to get help in this area, including when early signs of violence are seen in children and young people. In summary, families and family relationships can no longer be neglected in solutions to this most heinous of social problems.

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 1st February 2021

(1 month ago)

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 101, which in some ways follows on from my group of amendments on social security, debated last Wednesday.

If we had a decent social security system that provided genuine security to survivors of domestic abuse, including economic abuse, and still had a national emergency scheme like the Social Fund, we might not need local welfare assistance schemes. As it is, such schemes, which constitute the final safety net—leaving aside charitable support—are in a parlous state, despite the welcome injection of cash to help cope with the pandemic.

When local welfare assistance schemes were introduced to replace the national Social Fund, the Government refused to make them compulsory or to ring-fence the money allocated, despite your Lordships’ best efforts. It is no surprise, therefore, that when local authorities are strapped for cash because of years of cuts, research by the Children’s Society last year found that one in seven local authorities does not even run a scheme any more. It found that, of 121 authorities that provided spending data, about three-quarters spent less than half their allocated budget on local welfare assistance schemes. That budget has itself been cut, so that overall, it stands at less than half the money that was allocated to the Social Fund it replaced.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has pointed out, the lack of any regulation has given rise to our old friend the postcode lottery, which is particularly damaging to domestic abuse survivors who might find themselves excluded by local connection criteria if they have moved local authorities to escape their abuser. A woman might find herself excluded because she is subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rule. It is essential that any guidance issued under this amendment, should it eventually pass, ensures that these groups are covered.

More generally, domestic abuse survivors need the security of knowing that they can get appropriate help from local authorities and not just help in kind which may well not be appropriate. It is not good enough that we have to rely on a charity to provide basic information on state local welfare assistance schemes because central government have taken the Pontius Pilate approach and washed their hands of all responsibility for the schemes, ignoring the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in a previous Parliament.

Paul Maynard MP on the Government Back Benches is leading a cross-party call tomorrow in the Commons for a review of local welfare assistance schemes, supported by among others former Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith. Mr Maynard stated:

“We need to ensure we learn the lessons of the pandemic to embed a better provision of emergency support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

This amendment would at least require central government to exercise some responsibility towards this particularly vulnerable group of people and it therefore deserves support.

I also want to speak briefly in support of Amendment 176, leaving it to the sponsors of the amendment to make the case more fully. I am sure no one would dispute the importance of specialised domestic abuse provision for a range of minority groups, including particular provision by and for domestic abuse victims and survivors. It is just such provision which has been particularly vulnerable to funding cuts and changes in commissioning practises in recent years, as was discussed earlier. That is sufficient reason for supporting this amendment, but it would also go some way to redress the balance, following the welcome introduction in the Bill of a duty on local authorities to assess the need for accommodation-based services by ensuring the duty in this new clause covers community-based services. As important as accommodation-based services are—they are very important—the Justice Secretary noted at Second Reading debate in the House of Commons that 70% of domestic abuse victims never set foot in a refuge. Many of them will seek support from community-based services.

The Government say they need more evidence about the need for community-based services and that nothing can be done until the domestic abuse commissioner designate has completed her investigation. However, the domestic abuse commissioner herself and organisations on the ground insist there is ample evidence to make legislative provision now. What further evidence do the Government need?

In Committee in the Commons, the Minister assured MPs that

“the Government are committed to addressing”

Whatever the domestic abuse commissioner’s findings are,

“that the commissioner will publish her report under clause 8”,

and the Government are

“required to respond to it within 56 days.” ”—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 11/6/20; col. 249.]

That is all well and good, but this Bill will be on the statue book by then. The chances of another Domestic Abuse Bill coming along in the near future must be slim—just look at how long it has taken us to get to this point on this Bill. I hope the Government will listen to the experts, the domestic abuse commissioner designate and organisations on the ground and extend the duty on local authorities to assess the need for community-based services and accept this amendment as a way of doing so.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 176 and 177, in my name, and I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, for their support. Amendment 176 is broad, and, to try to help the House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby will speak to non-discrimination and the need for specialist services; the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will speak on community-based services and how they support victims and provide perpetrator programmes; and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, will speak to the unintended consequences that the Bill risks having.

As I said last week, I am delighted that it is my Government who are putting forward this Bill, which has my strong support. I thank Barnardo’s and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, among others, for their help and advice.

At the outset, I welcome the announcement today of £40 million funding for community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services. The Government have acknowledged the effect that the pandemic has had. This welcome government support only strengthens my argument that community-based services need long-term and sustainable funding. I hope the Government can solidify their good intentions by announcing that they will place community-based services on the same statutory footing as accommodation-based services.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, was right just now. On 16 June last year, the domestic abuse commissioner designate wrote to the Domestic Abuse Bill Public Bill Committee in the other place to follow up on her oral evidence to it. I am happy to quote from her letter:

“As I said in my oral evidence, I strongly welcome the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s proposal to require Local Authorities to provide accommodation-based services, but it must go further. In order to address the breadth of domestic abuse services, the statutory duty must encompass those community-based services that are accessed by the majority of victims, survivors and their children, and must also include quality provision for perpetrators. I have very real concerns about Local Authorities redistributing their funding simply to meet the statutory duty, and therefore deprioritising those critical community-based services that can intervene earlier and prevent a survivor from being forced to flee to a refuge. There is already ample evidence to support this, and while my mapping work may well add to this evidence base, it is wholly unnecessary for Parliament to wait for it to complete before considering this issue.”

This is very clear. The commissioner designate acknowledges that the exercise will provide useful analysis of spending by local authorities on community-based services, but, crucially, she says that Parliament does not need to wait in legislating. She said this in June, and she has not changed her mind. This governmental concern about waiting is not shared by the commissioner and so many others, and I ask my noble friend the Minister to look at this again.

The other main concern has been the need to consult other public authorities. The new clause in Amendment 176 is structured so that it would improve service provision with immediate effect, with public bodies able to take into account relevant circumstances in deciding what constitutes “reasonable steps” and sufficiency. Taking new information into account, the nature of what constitutes “reasonable steps” and sufficiency will change accordingly as and when the outcome of any consultation or mapping exercise becomes available.

Many agencies are needed to tackle domestic abuse: among them are the police, housing, children’s services and the NHS. A multiagency approach is critical to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are able to live and rebuild their lives free of abuse. The amendment brings these agencies together in a holistic approach.

The path to tackling domestic abuse is ensuring that all victims, adults or children, are able to access the support they require to recover from the trauma that they have experienced. For some victims, fleeing their home and seeking refuge in safe accommodation —a truly traumatic event in itself—may be their only option. Of course, this is no easy decision to arrive at: they may move miles away from their support networks and abandon their possessions and, sometimes, livelihoods, and their children may be taken out of their school—all for the pursuit of safety, while the perpetrator remains in the comfort of their own home.

For many victims, leaving home is just not an option: 70% of domestic abuse victims never set foot in safe accommodation, and it is clear that victims who are disabled, elderly, BAME or LGBTQ all face additional barriers to accessing safe accommodation—not to mention the vast number of child victims who are trapped. This is why I urge the Government to be bold and ensure that the Bill will help as many people in need as possible.

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 25th January 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I begin with an apology: I was unable to take part at Second Reading of this important Bill, a Bill on which I, like others, congratulate the Government. Unlike much of our discussion and debate in this House, this is a real debate, with passionate views, strongly and sincerely held, being expressed on both sides of the argument.

I come to this from a background of 40 years as a constituency MP. Throughout that time, I held frequent and regular advice surgeries—at least a couple a month. I was always most distressed and least able to help when people brought their parental and marital difficulties to me. Whenever I saw people to discuss these things, I became convinced that, in almost every case, the victims were the children. When there is a separation or break-up of a marriage, long-term relationship or anything else, it is the children who always suffer, regardless of the “blame” attached to either side. Other noble Lords will have shared these experiences, which were the most difficult—indeed impossible—to resolve adequately, properly and fairly.

Some years ago, when I was in the United States with the Foreign Affairs Committee of another place, I met someone who felt passionately about this issue. In the margins of our meetings, she explained to me the cause that she was championing and gave me some of the details of why she was doing so. That person was the wife of our then American ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, and is now our much-admired colleague in your Lordships’ House. She spoke today with passionate intensity; it was a very moving speech.

I was minded to say that I would of course support these amendments. I support so much of what is behind them, but I cannot ignore the powerful speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Helic, or from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, a few moments ago. I am very persuaded by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who knows perhaps more than any of us about marital problems and difficulties from her work in the family court. Although she spoke so briefly but movingly, this is something we must not dismiss.

I wonder whether the Bill is the right vehicle at the moment. I am not saying that I am persuaded that it is not; I shall talk and read more after today’s debate, but one body is frequently derided in the modern age: the royal commission. I wonder whether a royal commission to look into these things, to weigh the conflicting academic and other evidence, might not offer a positive and helpful way forward. There is no doubt that both my noble friends Lady Meyer and Lady Helic would be more than well equipped to give powerful evidence to such a body—as would others; we have all had representations on both sides of the argument.

There is nothing worse than polluting the mind of a child and weaponising and indoctrinating a child, particularly doing it with the intention of discrediting the other parent. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to enjoy very long marriages and see our children likewise enjoy long marriages have no real idea of just how devastating the sort of situation that my noble friend Lady Meyer described can be. We can only listen with sympathy and regard. We can empathise to the best of our ability, but we have not been there and we do not know that. However, I think that it would be very sensible for a royal commission to look into this. Royal commissions do not always have to, in the words of the late Lord Wilson, take minutes and sit for years. A small group of very experienced lawyers and others could pronounce on this in a fairly short timescale.

For the moment, I reserve my position on this amendment. I want to listen to what others say in this debate and when we come to Report, but I ask my noble friend who will reply from the Front Bench at least to reflect on the suggestion I have put forward and see whether it offers us a way to achieve what my noble friend Lady Meyer would have us achieve without some of the dangers talked about so powerfully by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lady Helic.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Cormack, and I agree with him, but my overriding concerns are for children. As I stated at Second Reading, I warmly welcome the step that the Government made to ensure that the children of victims of domestic abuse are duly recognised in the definition. The moving and in many ways deeply tragic stories so compassionately told by my noble friend Lady Meyer are an important lesson for all of us as we embark on five days of debate on this vital legislation. Sadly, we will all have stories. We all know of situations and we all know people affected, but overridingly we need to find ways to put a stop to the cycle of abuse. That is why I have so much sympathy for the aims of my noble friend’s amendments. It seems pretty clear to me that a child who has experienced parental alienation should be included as a victim of domestic abuse.

Like many noble Lords, I have received many briefings and personal testimonies. One in particular that arrived in my in-box saddened me on this important issue of parental alienation. It is not good enough for opponents somehow to pretend that either it does not happen or, as my noble friend Lady Helic asserted at Second Reading, to refer to the concept of “so-called” parental alienation. As my noble friend Lady Meyer clearly outlined, it can and does happen, and it is sadly so much more than a concept.

I was contacted and told the following story: “I was the victim of domestic abuse in 2006. I and my two children, aged three and five months, left the family home with the help of Women’s Aid. The father has used coercive control consistently since then, calling the police and the social services to say that I am abusing the children. It is always completely unfounded. In 2013, he decided to terminate all contact. He reappeared last year, and has now completely alienated my precious, loving 15 year-old son.” The story continued.

We must not neglect children who are suffering from the absence of a beloved parent due to manipulation by another parent. My noble friend Lady Meyer is quite right to say that parental alienation is not an ideology or a concept. It is real. I will be interested if the Minister can explain why alienation does not fit into Clause 1(3), which refers to,

“physical or sexual abuse … violent or threatening behaviour … controlling or coercive behaviour … economic abuse … psychological, emotional or other abuse.”

Could paragraph (c) not read “controlling, alienating or coercive behaviour”?

Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP) [V]
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My Lords, I, too, wish to commend the Minister on bringing this solid piece of legislation before the House and getting it to this stage. However, I rise to speak in support of these two amendments and commend those who tabled them and brought them before the House. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, speaks with personal knowledge on this issue, having listened to her on another occasion and to what she has said today. When someone refers to their personal experience, I think it is always prudent, has a lot of merit and deserves a lot of close attention.

I want to address my comments today to the narrow issue of parental alienation. I am aware that this legislation applies primarily to England and Wales, not Northern Ireland. However, it is important that all parts of the UK are able to move forward with these protections as soon as possible. A gap in legislation was created when the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended. My DUP colleagues and I will support the amendment in the event of the Committee dividing. It would insert parental alienation into the definition of domestic abuse in Clause 1.

Sadly, we live in a society today where there are thousands of parents who do not have any relationship with their children, and in some of these cases simply because one parent, for no good reason, turned their child against them. This amounts to abuse and is debilitating. Parental alienation is a serious, deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other parent. Of course, it can take many forms, including speaking negatively to the child about the other parent, reducing and controlling the child’s contact with the other parent, cancelling contact at the last minute and forbidding the child to talk about the other parent.

The effects can be life-changing. A child may believe that their parent is bad and dangerous. This can adversely affect a child’s mental health in later years. The child can be left bereft of the love, compassion and guidance of a parent. The alienated parent cannot share key milestones in their child’s life. I do not think it is possible to overstress the importance and influence of parents in their children’s life. Often by the time alienation has been proven through the courts it is much too late to encourage a child to see his or her other parent. Clinical depression, anxiety, fractured attachments, suicide ideation, deliberate self-harm, alcohol abuse, premature sexual activity and academic underachievement may have already occurred.

The sweeping generalisation that parental alienation is a concept being used by fathers as a tool to silence female victims of domestic violence is not accurate. There is a real risk that those advocating that position will neglect the needs of those men and women who do not have convictions for domestic violence or other offences but have been cut off from contact with their children and grievously miss them.

However, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not in any way seeking to challenge cases where a child has valid reasons for rejecting a parent, such as abuse or neglect, or where they have been unavailable to a child due to a prolonged period of addiction or of working overseas. My understanding of these amendments is that they are focused on situations where children become alienated through no fault of the affected parent, so it is critical that the Committee recognises that the harm caused in these cases is not restricted to abuse of a child. We should not ignore the fact that there is a range of motivating factors and circumstances involved in parental alienation, but I consider it appropriate to place it within the domestic abuse legislation as it victimises both parent and child.

I recognise and welcome that the Minister has already taken steps to classify parental alienation as an example of the psychological abuse in draft statutory guidance accompanying the Bill. On balance, however, I do not believe that this represents a level of protection or impetus that full legislative protection would provide.

My party, the DUP, has some concern around whether parental alienation will receive the attention it deserves in training and guidance on criminal behaviours without it being specifically stipulated as an offence in the Bill. Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly raised similar points during the development of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill. We must ensure that there is knowledge, understanding and application of domestic abuse law as it relates to parental alienation.

We are mindful that these amendments and the Bill in general would address only issues relating to parental alienation at the point at which harm has been caused. While it may dissuade such behaviour in the future, we also recognise that prevention and earlier and better support for parents—and between parents and children—are key to improving long-term outcomes for children and families. There is a need for better collaboration between health and justice departments right across the UK in respect of this and specific policies on alienation.

Break in Debate

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, like the other stories lying behind the need for this Bill, this set of amendments reveals a shameful story. I am pleased to support this group of amendments and to support the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. There could be as many as 100 women at a time caught in this situation who are known to the religious courts. It is not uncommon for women to secure their release by paying sums extorted from them by acts comparable to blackmail. The grant of the get can be used by the husband as leverage. A recent case involved a woman paying her ex-husband £50,000 for her freedom after 15 years of being chained; others have cost similar five-figure sums. It is reported that more abuse occurs nowadays than previously, perhaps connected to higher divorce rates and higher financial obligations imposed by secular courts. It is true that a religious divorce needs the woman’s agreement as well, but her refusal can be overridden by a religious court whereas a man’s cannot. Noble Lords can imagine what we women think of this and the lack of respect we have for the rabbinic authorities who manage to find all sorts of loopholes in religious law but not in this one.

It is embarrassing to have to turn to secular law for relief. The Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 allows parties to ask a judge to delay a decree absolute until a religious divorce is finalised, but this law is ineffective if the husband does not care about getting a civil divorce. Then there is the Serious Crime Act 2015, Section 76, which is referred to in the amendment too. In the circumstances of a get refusal, there have been prosecutions launched against wholly unreasonable and controlling husbands under that section, which created the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. Withholding the get fits well within that section. It is not, however, retrospective, and a person bringing a private prosecution has to be prepared to foot the bill for their legal costs. The section needs the proof of intent to cause fear of violence or serious distress. The cases about the get brought under this section never came to court because, once the husband had been served with the charge, he caved in. The result is that there is no precedent that this section can in fact be used where a get is withheld.

So why will the potential of Section 76 not suffice for the cruel treatment that has been described? The answer is that there would be advantages to dealing with unreasonable withholding of the get in the domestic abuse setting rather that of the Serious Crime Act. The use of a domestic abuse protection notice or order would open the door to a range of support for the victim. It also would mean that, rather than a criminal procedure, the perpetrator—usually, but not always, the husband—will be subject to a civil preventive measure, the notice, not a finding of guilt. A domestic abuse protection order can contain appropriate conditions, and must not conflict with the perpetrator’s religious beliefs. It is important that a domestic abuse order or notice be perceived as less coercive than a criminal conviction under the Serious Crime Act 2015. This is because a strict interpretation of the orthodox Jewish law requires that the husband be not directly coerced into giving the get; it has to be voluntary, as is widely understood. I am not defending this for a moment but, for those for whom the correct religious forms are important, and bearing in mind the impact on their present and future families, a domestic abuse protection notice or order would be a lifeline in secular and religious terms.

I support this set of amendments, which define the unreasonable withholding of a get as abusive behaviour; that is, when one spouse acts in a way which is controlling, coercing or threatening, or abusing the other spouse’s normal civil liberty of being able to remarry and have children in accordance with her beliefs. I hope that this House and the Government will extend a helping hand and free these unfortunate women.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 3, 5, 168, 169 and 170. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Altmann on her excellent introduction. I am delighted that my Government are putting forward this Bill and its attempt to provide as comprehensive as possible a set of arrangements relating to domestic abuse; it has my strong support. I am particularly grateful to the Ministers, my noble friends Lady Williams of Trafford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for their willingness to engage.

To be clear, as my noble friend Lady Altmann said, the majority of cases of Jewish divorce are completed without too much difficulty; in the Orthodox community, they are handled by a beth din, and the judges—or dayanim—of the beth din ensure that all provisions of Jewish law are fully and appropriately adhered to. However, there are far too many cases where a man with ill intent can frustrate the process with potentially devastating ramifications for his spouse and, of course, his children. These amendments are clearly being proposed to ensure that victims of domestic abuse or coercive behaviour have full access to the provisions of the Bill. The amendments do not reduce the court’s existing ability to allow the religious courts to apply halacha—Jewish law—or, in particular, the provisions of the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002, which had the support of Lord Jakobovits, Lord Sacks and the London Beth Din.

As a practising member of the modern orthodox community, let me be absolutely clear: I am not remotely qualified to make statements on behalf of anyone, and certainly not on behalf of the beth din. However, I acknowledge that the beth din of the United Synagogue should be commended on the efforts it has made to limit the number of agunot—chained women. It has recently and rightly taken out adverts in the Jewish press that name and shame Jewish men who have refused to give a get, but sadly there is still so much more to do. However, these are overriding matters for the religious authorities and they should continue their own deliberations, although I believe that there may be scope for the Minister, my noble friend Lord Wolfson, to explore potential opportunities with the beth din going forward.

Domestic Abuse Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, this Bill offers hope and help to all those who face the soul-destroying horror of domestic abuse, often for years, and are afterwards left trying to piece together the fragments of broken lives. I make just a few discrete points for further consideration.

The first concerns special measures for protecting witnesses and victims. We know that we must make giving evidence less terrifying, make proceedings more humane and help victims summon up the courage to bring cases against their abusers. The Bill provides for automatic eligibility for special measures for victims in the family and criminal courts. I agree with Refuge that we should extend this to all relevant civil cases.

Secondly, the Bill outlaws direct cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in many—but not necessarily all—family proceedings, and, on a discretionary basis, in civil proceedings. Little could be more traumatic for a victim than being harangued by her abuser in intimidating and humiliating language, often crude and intimate, masquerading as cross-examination. This ban should extend to all family and civil cases involving domestic abuse. However, the Bill proposes that court-appointed qualified legal representatives should conduct cross-examinations, but without being responsible to the parties they represent, which concerns me. Cross-examination must be acceptable questioning, sensitive to the witness, which should be achievable without losing the lawyer’s responsibility to the client. We should provide legal aid to both parties, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, and as the Bar Council agrees.

I share the view of my noble friend Lady Burt that polygraph testing, on the present state of technology, has no place in our criminal justice system.

Along with Nicole Jacobs, the commissioner-designate, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, my noble friend Lady Burt and others, I favour making non-fatal strangulation a specific offence. This horrible form of violence is appallingly common and devastating in its physical and psychological effects. Yet because the injuries are difficult to prove, prosecutions, where they happen, are often for common assault, or ABH at most, demonstrably understating the severity of the violence involved.

In 2015, when we criminalised revenge porn, many of us argued, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, that threatening to share intimate images without consent should also be an offence. We did not succeed then, but the dreadful effect on the psyche of victims, often very young, threatened with such exposure, should now persuade the Government to follow Scotland’s lead in criminalising such threats. These new offences could sit comfortably in Part 6 of the Bill, dealing with offences of violent or abusive behaviour.

Finally, we welcome categorising controlling or coercive behaviour as domestic abuse. However, confining abuse to cases where abuser and abused are personally connected, as defined, is a mistake. In March we debated coercive control in psychotherapy and cases where, through the process of transference, sometimes stimulating false memories, therapists had effectively replaced clients’ parents or families, alienating clients from them, often for years and sometimes for life. I favour broadening the definition of “personal connection” to cover this and other relevant relationships.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, while I welcome the important step that the Government took in July, ensuring that the Bill would recognise the children of victims of domestic abuse in the statutory definition, the Government can take a further important step to break the cycle of abuse by ensuring that all children, no matter where they live, can access support to help them recover.

Yesterday I spoke to Naomi Dickson, chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid for the last seven years, to whom I pay tribute, although it is by no means only me paying tribute to her; a few weeks ago, she was named in the BBC’s list of 100 women of 2020, a list of the most inspiring women from around the world. Yesterday, she told me how the JWA helpline was over 30% busier since Covid began, and how she had found it necessary to initiate a welfare grant scheme, with small but vital grants being given to needy mothers and children for the most basic of requirements. However, the deserving recognition on the BBC’s list is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the public recognition of someone who has dedicated her professional life to supporting Jewish women and children who sadly have experienced domestic abuse is appropriate and fitting, but on the other, Naomi receiving this deserved recognition is a stark reminder of a real and urgent problem that must be addressed and tackled.

My daughter Natasha, an art therapist, co-founded a charity, Arts Therapies for Children. The demand for its services has grown enormously since its creation in 2016. It is currently experiencing the greatest demand due to Covid, as children are struggling more than ever with their mental well-being. I have also had the privilege of being briefed by practitioners and experts, and particularly thank Claire Stewart of Barnardo’s. Clearly, for the Bill to achieve its stated aim of being a ground-breaking landmark Bill, more emphasis on commissioning specialist support and services for all those affected by domestic abuse is needed. I agree with the sound and wise words of my noble friend Lady Chisholm. There are hundreds of thousands of children suffering, and while I welcome the inclusion of children within the working definition, this needs to be reflected in service provision for these victims, or the Bill will be inadequate and the opportunity to stop the cycle of abuse continuing into adulthood will be missed.

I agree with the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, who told the Bill Committee in another place that what is missing from the Bill is the inclusion of community-based services in the statutory duty. If there is a statutory duty for refuge-based or accommodation-based services, local authorities will prioritise that duty, so community-based services will be curtailed or possibly cut. Community-based services will become the poor relation. People will suffer. Children will suffer; they will not be educated to know what is and is not a healthy relationship, and could become the victims or the perpetrators of the future. There is an opportunity to stop this and make a difference. I urge my noble friend the Minister, who is empathetic, to find a way of ensuring that the Bill becomes that landmark Bill and includes community-based services in the statutory duty. Children are the group most at risk from domestic abuse and should be at the very heart of this vital legislation.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. We are discussing a very good Bill, most effectively introduced by the Minister. It has excellent features—for instance, the commissioner and protection orders. I also commend Clause 50, which gives powers to the family judge under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. I recognise that, as the Minister said, excellence can be the enemy of the good, but good Bills can none the less usefully be improved, and this is one of them.

I want to highlight several issues. As we all know, domestic abuse is found across all society and in many different situations. Those in a forced marriage often suffer domestic abuse and are clearly within the existing definitions in the Bill, but it is essential to flag up the existence of this group of victims.

The word “domestic”, however, should not be interpreted as meaning solely spouses or partners but should include the wider family and those living within a family. I am delighted to see that “personally connected” in Clause 2 includes relatives, but it should also include guardians. Other groups, too, suffer abuse in a domestic setting. A senior police officer recently reminded me of victims of modern slavery who are in domestic servitude and subject to domestic abuse by the family in which they work and with whom they live. He had come across several such cases, but they are not related to the family and do not, at the moment, come within Clause 2, although they should.

There is a particular problem for women brought from abroad to marry in this country by a ceremony of marriage that is not registered and consequently is not, in English law, lawful. Such women are in a parlous state when they flee their husband. Their immigration status is, at best, uncertain. They may not obtain the protection of a DV rule and have no recourse to public funds. This is a serious injustice.

I am delighted by Clause 3 and the inclusion of children. I remember, as a family judge, hearing the saddest stories, one of which concerned two children sitting in the living room with the TV at full blast so that they could not hear their father hitting their mother in the kitchen. There are, however, other men who live in a household and abuse the women with whom they live. Very often there are children in the family unrelated to these men, as women have multiple, successive partners. Such a situation does not appear to be covered by Clause 3, but abuse takes place to the detriment of this group of children and the clause needs to include them.

It is essential that the domestic abuse commissioner is able to act independently of government. There is a need to have refuges for men who are victims of abuse; there are not sufficient. There also need to be suitable refuges for those fleeing forced marriages, particularly those under 18. As the AHRC points out in its excellent briefing, the proposed statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based domestic abuse services is too narrow and should include community services. As, indeed, the domestic abuse commissioner has advised that a review by her is not necessary, it is important that sufficient funding is given to local authorities for these services, otherwise other important services suffer.

The Government are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill and I hope that they will be open to listening to how it can be improved.

Security Co-operation

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Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(3 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The European arrest warrant is used exclusively by EU members, obviously. We have proposed that an agreement with the EU should provide for fast-track extradition arrangements, based on the EU’s arrangements with Norway and Iceland but with appropriate further safeguards for individuals.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My noble friend has rightly stated that the safety and security of our citizens is the top priority and that the UK will continue to be a global leader in security. One therefore hopes that our European friends will continue to work closely with us to ensure the safety of all our citizens. In the unlikely event that we leave without a deal, can my noble friend confirm that there are well-developed and well-rehearsed plans in place to ensure the safety and security of the British people?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I can confirm that for my noble friend. I also reiterate his point that the safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority. We are negotiating an agreement on law enforcement and criminal justice with the EU to equip our operational partners on both sides with the capabilities to protect citizens and bring criminals to justice.

Leaseholders and Cladding

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Wednesday 25th November 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend—that will be about five minutes’ work. I agree that leaseholders must be protected from unaffordable costs, particularly if these are driven by unnecessary gold-plating. I agree that leasehold reform needs to be an absolute priority, and it is a priority for this Government.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to be able to follow my noble friend Lord Blencathra. The HCLG report published yesterday argued, correctly, that leaseholders should not be expected to foot the bill for failures not of their own making. Some property owners have taken the necessary steps, supported by the Government—and therefore the taxpayer—through funding, but sadly so many others have not. Can my noble friend tell me what I can say to Charlie, Rebecca and their baby, who bought their new build leasehold flat five years ago? The block failed the ESW1 process and the review found flammable cladding, combustible insulation, timber balconies and more. They are trapped in a flat that could go up in flames and have repair bills that could break them financially.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend must point out to them that this Government have an iron resolve to make sure that developers step up to the plate. They have made significant profits on those developments and will want to make profits in the future. We need to make them pay; we need to reason with them and say that it is no good laying this at the door of the taxpayer. They will have to step up to the plate. I will ensure that this Government make every endeavour to make them do so.

Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers

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Thursday 12th November 2020

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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May I gently remind noble Lords to keep their questions and answers brief? A number of noble Lords still wish to get in.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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I guess it is easy to sit on the sidelines and criticise but on the critical issue of homelessness this Government, and specifically the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, together with my noble friend the Minister, ought to be congratulated. As has been said, early in the pandemic they launched the Everyone In project, backed up with £700 million. In addition, the recent announcement of the Protect programme, with a further £15 million, will ensure that councils can offer everyone sleeping rough somewhere safe to go. However, does my noble friend agree that it would be reprehensible if any council used that funding for people who are not sleeping rough?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, it is important to focus the money designed for rough sleeping on rough sleeping—that is its intended purpose—but it is also important to deal with the wider issue of homelessness. I would point out that the Government have given £6.4 billion to local councils to support their communities through the pandemic.

Domestic Abuse: Protection of Victims

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Tuesday 27th October 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I do not think anyone in the House would disagree with the noble Baroness that some children have probably experienced terrible things during lockdown, with not only their parents being victims of domestic violence but themselves too. Even if a child sees domestic violence going on, they are a victim, and that is why we have included it in the definition of a victim of domestic abuse. One of the key functions of the domestic abuse commissioner will be to encourage good practice in the identification of children affected by such abuse and the provision of protection and support to people, including children, affected by domestic abuse.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, the Domestic Abuse Bill, as currently drafted, places an important duty on local authorities in England to deliver support for victims who are in accommodation-based services such as a refuge. But 70% of victims of domestic abuse, specifically children, suffer at home, not in a refuge. How can we avoid creating a two-tier system whereby 70% of the victims of domestic abuse, including those children, will not be able to access this support because, sadly, they suffer at home?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The idea is that they will be able to access the support—it would be a terrible thing if, say, the mother of the child was getting the support and the children simply were not. Part and parcel of the support that people will receive includes of course the children of people who are being abused.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
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Wednesday 21st October 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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Five Members have indicated that they wish to speak at this point: the noble Lord, Lord Polak, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I call the first of those speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Polak.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I have no intention of delaying the House as I have made my views on this pretty clear. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, has been very clear and precise. I believe that the Government are sticking their heels in for no good reason.

I should make it known that this morning there was a power outage at the police national computer centre in Hendon—run, of course, by the Home Office. As a result, police forces across the country were not able to access the police national computer. I do not need to explain to noble Lords that power outages of this sort have a serious effect on police operations. Following the technical issue that affected our voting on 30 September and this issue today, surely those EU citizens who request physical proof should be able to receive it like any other citizen.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, tabled the amendment in lieu to deal with the cost element that the Minister brought up on Report. I agree with him, because non-EEA citizens now receive physical proof, so I really fail to understand what the up-front costs that the Minister referred to are. It is an existing scheme. EU citizens deserve to be treated equally and the amendment deserves to be accepted. This is a matter not of policy, but of process. Non-EU citizens can obtain physical proof of settled status, so EU citizens will be the only group without that physical proof. I fail to understand why the Government are unable to accept the compromise amendment that now deals with the financial question.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Oates’s excellent speech, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, with whom I worked on the EU Justice Sub-Committee. The Minister referred to people being able to use their smartphones for this purpose. A friend of mine could not open the link in the email she received confirming her settled status. She had to go to an internet café to do so. I am not quite sure what went wrong there.

I will refer to a report published yesterday by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in the other place called Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: Citizens’ Rights. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at it, but it backs the amendment so that EU citizens should have

“the option of … a physical document to evidence their residency status … in addition to their digital status.”

I am very pleased indeed that it has given that support. It refers to a number of reasons why this should be accepted. It talks about

“examples of people getting assistance from unregulated immigration advisers to make their application, then the third party retain the log-in details necessary to access the platform”

and make a

“charge to send on details to employers.”

I hope that is something the Home Office might look into.

The committee also talks about how, because the online product

“remains linked to the physical document, such as a passport, used by the individual in their application … If the passport is changed, then the applicant has to update the online system.”

That is an issue that will recur. The committee also says that

“accessing the online profile is not straightforward for people not fluent in IT”—

something we have discussed a lot on this subject—so they

“end up relying on the pdf document they receive informing them that a status has been granted”.

The Minister referred to that being put in the desk drawer. It is, of course,

“not a substitute for actual evidence of status”,

but unfortunately it might be used by some people who are confused by the online environment, which is a recipe for some difficulty.

Then, of course, the person asking the EU citizen to demonstrate their status has to understand it. The Minister referred to support for the holders of settled status. I am not sure whether she plans to give lots of tuition to prospective landlords, employers and so on. She talked about the NHS. It was not quite clear what that system will be. The Public Law Project has listed nine steps that a third party such as an employer would have to take to check the status of an EU citizen. It is worth quickly mentioning them:

“Request the code from the applicant … Wait for an email with a link to arrive … Open and read the email … Search, identify, and open the correct website”,

because apparently there is no link in the email,

“Start the checking process … Enter the share code from the email … Enter the applicant’s date of birth … Enter their company name”—

I am not sure what happens for an individual landlord—and, lastly,

“Check that the photo on their screen looks like the person applying for the job and keep a secure copy of the online check, either electronically or in hard copy.”

All this requires reliable access to the internet. If you do not have access to wi-fi, which you might not in an empty flat that you are showing it to a prospective tenant, a person would have to rely on mobile signal, which is honestly not great, even in London.

Also, the committee’s report says that apparently

“the lack of a physical document has contributed to the confusion over eligibility for benefits, because claimants have been unable to show a photo ID card showing their status … it was unclear how some decisions have been made by the DWP in terms of using settled status as a proof of eligibility.”

It is quite a serious point that even the DWP does not seem to have got this right.

The report says that

“the option of a physical card would give an additional layer of safety against criminal attempts to ‘hijack’ someone’s status.”

We are being warned all the time about cybersecurity, and the dangers of malware, hacking and so on. The report says that, in a recent survey of 3,000 EU citizens, apparently more than 10% had been asked

“to provide proof of settled status, and that the digital only status was deterring some from applying.”

It was actually putting them off. The report continues,

“physical proof came right at the top of concerns of EU citizens: 89% said that they would like an option, not compulsory, of physical proof.”

Having gone through all that evidence, it is hardly any wonder that the committee in the other place backed this sincere, reasoned request for EU citizens to have the option of a physical document. I know the noble Baroness cares about people and people’s lives, but it really seems the Government ought to find a way to accede to this request.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 5th October 2020

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 18 in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride. In doing so, I give notice of my intention to test the opinion of the House unless the Government are willing to move on this issue. I also thank all noble Lords who are speaking in the debate and all those who have spoken in previous debates over the years; they have shown consistent support on this issue.

It seems that we have been over this ground on numerous occasions over the past few years. In that time, the Government have failed to put forward any convincing arguments to deny EEA nationals, alone among all of the people residing in the United Kingdom, physical proof of their right to do so. This amendment would right that wrong and in doing so it would alleviate anxiety for millions of people, in particular the elderly and the most vulnerable.

The amendment has no partisan or ideological flavour and it is backed by Peers from all sides of the House, from all parties and from none. It is simply a practical measure to make life easier for a large number of people and to deliver a consistent system of proof of residents’ rights which does not discriminate between nationalities. It is deliberately modest in its ambitions. It does not require that physical proof is issued to every EEA national who is granted settled status, only that EEA nationals must be provided with physical proof of their status if they request it.

The Government’s arguments against this very modest proposal seem to be as follows. The first is that offering both digital and physical proof of status would be confusing. That argument is hard to understand because this is exactly the system that operates for all other permanent residents in our country. Far from avoiding confusion, a digital-only system will sow it in abundance. Landlords, employers and others required to check immigration status will now be confronted by two systems, one for EEA nationals and one for non-EEA nationals. They may wonder at this discrimination between nationalities and, given that they face crippling fines and the possibility of imprisonment if they get things wrong, they may decide that in the absence of physical proof, it is safer to replicate the Government’s discrimination and not to employ, rent a property to or provide a service to an EEA national.

Secondly, the Government claim that a digital proof is better than a physical proof because a digital proof cannot be lost. The answer to this is simple. We are not suggesting the removal of digital proof or digital records; we are simply arguing that physical proof should complement digital status. None the less, it is worth questioning the Government’s repeated claims in Committee about the resilience and robustness of the digital system. These arguments come to us in a month in which the Tokyo stock exchange lost a full day of trading due to a technological failure not only of its main system but also of its back-up, the Conservative Party virtual conference was rendered inaccessible to many of its delegates, denying them what is doubtless, for Conservatives at least, the unrivalled pleasure of a speech by Michael Gove, and of course the failure of our own House of Lords voting system when we were discussing this very Bill on Wednesday last and the failure of our hybrid proceedings this afternoon.

Let us be clear: systems failures are not a matter for the history books but happen every day. Technical faults occurred on the EU settled status scheme website in August this year, a nationwide failure of the US Customs and Border Protection system happened in August last year, and we all know of the scandalous injustice visited on sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses as a result of the supposedly infallible Horizon IT system. In each case, those responsible made extravagant and categorical claims about the robustness and resilience of their system.

Even temporary failures may give rise to permanent effects. If an employer or a landlord is unable to access the system at the point they have to decide between potential employees or tenants, the likelihood is they will give the job or rent the home to someone who can provide physical proof of their right to work or rent accommodation.

Thirdly, the Government argue that they intend to move to a wholly digital system in future and that it therefore makes sense for this new settled status scheme to adopt a digital-only model from the outset. It makes no sense at all. If a digital-only system is to be adopted, it should be extensively trialled in advance with widespread pilot schemes conducted with citizens who are confident in their status and who have the security of physical documentation as well. Australia, one of the few countries to have moved to a digital-only system, trialled it over a period of more than a decade.

As I said in Committee, we should not conduct an experiment with the lives of millions of people who are in receipt of an entirely new status, whose rights are not even underpinned in primary legislation and who are understandably nervous about their status, given the Government’s declared intention to violate the very treaty on which that status is based. We should especially not conduct an experiment with the lives of millions of people when the one trial the Government have undertaken, which involved non-EU citizens who had the back-up of a physical residence card, found the following:

“There is a clearly identified user need for the physical card at present, and without strong evidence that this need can be mitigated for vulnerable, low-digital skill users, it should be retained.”

I asked the Minister in Committee to explain to the House what has changed since the Government made that assessment in 2018. She either could not or would not answer that question. Neither could she tell us when the policy equality statement related to this policy, which the Government have confirmed exists, will be published. It is unacceptable that we are being asked to decide on legislation that will affect millions of lives when the Government are withholding from us such vital information, so I ask the Minister to address these issues in her response.

On every occasion we have discussed this matter, I have asked the Minister and other members of the Government, just as my noble friend Lady Hamwee did on an earlier amendment this afternoon, to try to walk in the shoes of others and to understand the huge anxiety which the Government’s refusal to listen and make this minor change is causing to EEA nationals, particularly to the elderly, vulnerable and those who lack IT literacy. At the end of the day, this argument is not about technology, documents or computer systems—it is about people’s lives, whether EEA nationals can feel secure in the status on which their whole lives are based, and whether the elderly and vulnerable can operate the system without dependency on others. It is about whether victims of domestic abuse will face further misery as an abusive partner exercises control over their lives through control of the email address on which their status is based, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, raised in Committee. It is about whether those seeking employment, accommodation or access to services will be discriminated against by employers, landlords or service providers who are confused that EEA nationals alone cannot produce physical documentation.

The case for this modest amendment is overwhelming. The practical arguments demand it, the principle of non-discrimination requires it, and the most basic level of consideration for the EEA nationals who have made their home with us compels it. I beg to move.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for his tenacity. We sat together on the Justice Committee some years ago, discussing these exact issues. As I stated at Second Reading, I am pleased to add my name to the amendment. I also thank my noble friends Lord Parkinson and the Minister for the time they gave me last week.

Like other noble Lords, I have received many messages from individuals supporting the amendment, from people whom I have never met to a number of colleagues from all sides of the Chamber—and I am grateful for that. As I have stated, the amendment is not political in nature but practical and sensible, and it should not prove onerous, as it mandates the Government to provide physical proof only if requested by an individual. Rather than giving my own opinion, I quote from a letter that I received from Maria:

“I am an EU national who has been based in the UK for over 26 years. As of 1 July 2021, I will be faced with proving my right to live and work here on a continual basis, hindered by the fact that I have no physical document with which to do so. Instead, for every different employer I work for, I will need to go through a lengthy, contorted, multi-step process involving my passport, my birth date, a unique one-off code sent to my phone, the employer’s email address, their business details and us both accessing the government website separately. I also must count on having all the necessary correct information to hand, the wi-fi connection being strong enough, the website not being down and there being no access errors with the database. In addition, I must hope that the other party is willing enough to go through the entire complex and time-consuming process with me. This is also the process I will need to go through to access the NHS, to rent a flat or, indeed, convince a sceptical airline employee abroad that I have the right to return to the UK without a visa in my passport or a physical document.”

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 14th September 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 49, to which the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, have added their name. The noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Kerslake, have asked me to pass on their apologies for not being able to participate in the debate—the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, cannot do so for obvious reasons—and to make my remarks on their behalf also.

I pay tribute to the3million for its tireless advocacy on behalf of EU citizens in the UK, as well as to British in Europe and the other country-specific groups that represent UK citizens in the EU and work so hard on their behalf.

The amendment’s importance is underlined by the fact that it not only commands cross-party support but is backed both by people, like me, who passionately wanted us to remain in the European Union and by those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, were equal in their passion to leave. This amendment is not about refighting the battles of Brexit. It is simply about ensuring that EU citizens feel secure in their new status and do not face discrimination in the provision of services or the right to employment. It might even be described—properly, on this occasion—as specific and limited in its nature.

The amendment would require the Government to provide physical proof confirming settled or pre-settled status to all EEA and Swiss nationals and their families who have been granted such status and who request it. It would also require that the document be provided free of charge. The only way in which it appears to diverge from Amendment 51 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, is that physical documents would be provided on request rather than automatically, so that those who did not feel the need for a physical residence card would not get one but those who did would be guaranteed one.

If the Government are correct that the system of verification and cloud-based proof of status will prove simple to use and will run smoothly, there may be little demand for such documents. But if, as I suspect, those granted settled status find that the digital system does not work effectively or is not understood by the service providers they must interact with—or if they simply want the physical surety that I would certainly desire were I permanently resident in another country—it will be available to them as it should be.

The arguments for the Government’s position are a little hard to follow but they seem principally to be these: first, that it would be confusing to people to have a digital system as well as a physical proof of status; secondly, that a digital proof is better than a physical proof because a digital proof cannot be lost; thirdly, that the Government intend to move to a wholly digital system in future and that it therefore makes sense for this new settled status scheme to adopt a wholly digital model from the outset.

On the first point, it is not clear why the Government think that having both physical proof and digital proof would be confusing, as this is exactly the system that exists for non-EEA citizens. They can access a digital proof of status and have a physical document. Landlords, employers and others who are expected to check for immigration status already operate under this system.

Within the settled status scheme itself, there are two different categories. Astonishingly, non-EEA nationals who are family members of EEA nationals—and who therefore acquire settled status through their family relationship—have the right to a physical document, while the EEA family member through whom they gain their status does not. Can the Minister explain to the House the logic behind this very curious arrangement and how it can possibly be said to provide clarity to anyone?

Secondly, when we discussed these matters, the Minister argued that digital proof is better than physical proof because it cannot be lost. I will be very clear to the Government and the Minister that this amendment would ensure that a physical document complements digital proof and would not replace it.

Thirdly, the Government have argued that it makes sense to adopt a digital model as this is the direction of travel of the Government as a whole. However, if a wholly digital system is to be introduced, it should be extensively piloted first with British citizens who are secure in their immigration status. We should not conduct an experiment with the lives of millions of people who are in receipt of an entirely new status, whose rights are not even underpinned in primary legislation and who are, understandably, extremely nervous about the situation in which they find themselves. It is, quite simply, wrong, especially when we already know the problems it will lead to. In 2018, the Government trialled their digital right-to-work scheme with non-EU citizens who have the backup of a physical residence card. Their own internal assessment stated the following:

“There is a clearly identified user need for the physical card at present, and without strong evidence that this need can be mitigated for vulnerable, low-digital skill users, it should be retained.”

In her response, can the Minister explain to the House what has changed since the Government made that assessment?

I hope that, during this evening’s debate, the Minister will be able to put her brief aside and try to walk in the shoes of the people who will be subject to this new system. I hope she will consider the anxiety and distress that they will be caused by the fact that, of the 70 million people living in Britain, they alone will be refused physical proof of their right to do so. I hope she will consider the fact that this anxiety and distress will be particularly acute among the elderly, the vulnerable and those lacking digital literacy.

I have tried to imagine what it would be like if I had an elderly relative who was an EU citizen and I had to explain to them that the whole proof of their continuing right to live in the UK existed only somewhere in the cloud, dependent on the resilience of government IT systems, the integrity of the data within them and the vagaries of an internet connection. I can imagine the distress and disbelief with which that relative would receive this information, and I wonder how I would explain to them why the Government were unwilling to do a simple thing and provide them with the reassurance of a physical document: something they could hold in their hand and show, themselves, to whoever in authority required it. This is something that will be provided to all UK citizens resident in the EU. I do not know whether the Minister or any of her colleagues in government have really thought about how those conversations will go and the distress that will be caused. However, if they have not, I hope they will now think about it and the position they have taken.

We still await the policy equality statement on the settlement scheme, which was originally promised in the spring. On July 28 this year, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster, stated that it would be published shortly. Can the Minister confirm that the equality statement exists, that it will be published and when it will be published? Does she recognise that the failure to provide such information before we debate legislation makes it very hard to make parliamentary accountability effective?

While the most vulnerable will inevitably suffer the most, all those with settled status are likely to be impacted by the absence of physical documents. Briefing from the3million group provides illustrative examples of the problems that people will encounter under the new system, which could have a severe impact on their ability to work, rent a property or access medical and other services. They are instructive illustrations and I hope the Government will look at them—and the issues they give rise to—carefully.

As the briefing tells us, research conducted by the Residential Landlords Association found that 20% of landlords are less likely to consider renting to EU or EEA nationals as a consequence of their lack of physical documentation. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants conducted 150 mystery shopping enquiries and found that 85% of prospective tenants who asked landlords to conduct an online check received no response at all. Of those landlords who did reply, only three said explicitly they would carry out such checks.

The situation is little better when it comes to employment. A poll of 500 employers conducted on behalf of the3million found that only 36% of employers knew that an online verification system would be applicable to EU citizens after the end of the grace period. This fell to just 17% among small businesses with a turnover of under £500,000, which means that four out of five such employers are not aware how right-to-work checks will operate under the new system.

What is the likely outcome of such confusion? It is that landlords and employers, who face unlimited fines and potential imprisonment if they employ or rent to someone who does not have the right to work or rent in the UK, will play it safe. As a result, EU citizens will be discriminated against compared with those who can show a physical document indicating their right to live or work in the UK. This is the real world, and these are the real effects on people’s lives, which could be corrected so easily by this amendment.

I hope that in the face of this compelling evidence of the clear harm that this discriminatory system will impose on millions of EU citizens, and in accordance with the promises made by senior members of the Government during the referendum campaign, the Government will think again, show themselves to have empathy and compassion and agree to this simple amendment, which would prevent so many unnecessary problems and so much unnecessary hardship from arising.

I beg to move.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to this amendment, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for his excellent and thoughtful introduction.

Non-EU citizens are given physical proof of their settled status. Can it really be that EU citizens will be the only group without physical proof of status? The immigration system should treat people fairly and justly. People who have come to the UK and live here lawfully should not struggle to demonstrate their rights. A physical document, such as a biometric residence permit like those issued to non-EU citizens, will give that peace of mind.

I am entirely at one with the Government and specifically the Home Office’s ambition to digitalise. Of course, it is the way forward. But we are not there yet and, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, the lack of physical proof will be of great concern to those who may not be digitally literate—specifically, some older people. So I was happy to support this amendment once it was agreed to add the requirement that the Government provide the physical proof if requested, thus alleviating the strain on the department.

As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, began, this amendment is neither political nor a repeat of arguments. It is simply a practical and sensible option to give some people comfort. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree with me that it is just the right thing to do.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I am the first person who signed Amendment 51 to speak on this group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for providing such a clear introduction to both the need for a physical document and the difference between these two amendments. Amendment 51, which I signed with the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, calls for the automatic provision of the document, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates said, and Amendment 49 would provide one on request. I would argue that Amendment 51 is stronger because “on request” requires people seeing into the future and predicting when things might not work. It would be simpler and easier for the department to administer, but either one of these amendments would be a significant improvement on the situation we have now.

As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, both the3million and Britons in Europe have done a great deal of work to spread the information about the need for this document. I was at a briefing earlier with the Children’s Society and the3million, focusing on the situation of the 260,000 children who have acquired settled status and the 150,000 who now have pre-settled status. If we think about the situation where—in about 10 or 15 years’ hence—one of those young children has to suddenly prove their status, recovering all the emails, the phone numbers and all the other information they might need to do that is likely to be far from simple.

I also want to address the situation for adults. Can the Minister confirm my understanding of what the process would be? My understanding is, for example, if someone wants to prove their right to work—as we were discussing in an earlier amendment—they will need to access their status via a website, providing the passport or ID card they applied with and their date of birth; they will then have a choice of getting a code with either email or phone; that code will need to be entered on the website; if that is successful, their status will appear on the screen and there will be an option to prove their status. They will then have to fill in the employer’s email address; the system will attempt to email a code to the employer, who will then need to find the correct website, enter the code along with some security information and finally see a screen with a photograph and proof that the person has the right to work. Does the Minister acknowledge that this has many moving parts? If any one of these fails, then it all fails.

We were talking before about landlords being reluctant to go through the extra hassle. We can also imagine plenty of employers who might be similarly reluctant—if they are choosing between two nearly equal applicants—and thinking, “Well, let’s just go for the simpler option.” We saw research from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants that showed that only three in 150 landlords said they were prepared to do those digital checks. Perhaps employers might not be quite so prepared—if they are concerned about discrimination legislation—to talk about their reluctance to do it, but you have to wonder if it would be there.

Of course, as other speakers have already said, this is really very frightening; it makes people feel very insecure. It is estimated that 22% of people do not have the essential digital skills to complete this process. It might be that they rely on someone else—such as the small child that I started off by talking about—but what happens when that person is no longer accessible or available to them or in contact with them? Physical back-up would provide people with certainty and security. It would be good if everyone had it, but either way it should certainly be available. Therefore, I commend both of these amendments, but particularly Amendment 51, to your Lordships.

Covid-19: Churches and Places of Worship

Lord Polak Excerpts
Thursday 9th July 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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My Lords, that is obviously something that would have to be considered as part of the comprehensive spending review that will take place this autumn. We recognise the importance of gift aid in supporting the financial sustainability of our places of worship.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, this morning, I attended morning prayers at Marble Arch synagogue. It was good to be back, although the new regulations will take some getting used to. At my synagogue in Borehamwood, Rabbi Alex Chapper explained some of the challenges going forward as synagogues reopen—especially financial ones, as synagogues generally raise funds by voluntary contributions from members, many of whom are facing financial uncertainty. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister that he has reached out to many communities, including the Jewish community. Is he able to update the House on those discussions?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
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I thank my noble friend for his kind words. I have had discussions as recently as last week with representatives of all Jewish communities, including the Orthodox community that he refers to. I am pleased to see that many synagogues are reopening, and that people are taking the appropriate decisions to keep their staff, volunteers and congregations safe, in line with public health advice.

Covid-19: Domestic Abuse

Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I totally agree with the noble Lord that perpetrators will use the family courts to abuse their victims yet further by putting pressure on them and by appearing in court. The Government are absolutely aware of that, and moves are in place to ensure that perpetrators cannot cross-examine their victims in court.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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Growing up in a household where there is domestic abuse is traumatic for children. It can normalise harmful behaviour and warp a child’s understanding of what relationships should be, and so the cycle of abuse continues. Does my noble friend the Minister therefore agree that there should be reference to children in the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the Bill, because it is clear that children who see, hear or experience abuse by one adult against another are themselves victims of abuse?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I could not agree more with my noble friend. We fully recognise the devastating impact that domestic abuse can have on children and will of course reflect this in the accompanying statutory guidance. The Government have listened very carefully to the very strong views expressed on this during the passage of the Bill in the other place. I can update him: we have undertaken to reflect further on this issue.

Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2019

Lord Polak Excerpts
Thursday 28th February 2019

(2 years ago)

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Lord Turnberg Portrait Lord Turnberg (Lab)
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My Lords, I strongly support the Government on this order.

There can be little doubt that Hezbollah has completely taken over control of Lebanon. It is certainly in the Parliament but it is also in the military—it is everywhere—and Lebanon and its Government can do little without Hezbollah. The deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah, Naim Qassem, has repeatedly said that the political and the military wings are as one—they are not distinct. There is little doubt too that Hezbollah is funded and supported by Iran and represents an outpost of that country, with its Shia expansionist policies, and that those policies are not only anti-Israel and anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic; wherever Jews exist, one just needs to see the sorts of terrorist attacks Hezbollah has made on Jewish installations around the world. It is not just Jews—they have attacked and killed British troops in Syria, as well as the poor Syrians.

It is not only Israel that has worries in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are all extremely worried about Hezbollah’s activities, and we have a good example in Yemen, where it has a role too. Its interests have nothing to do with the plight of Palestinians. They are just pawns in their game, and if a peaceful resolution and a two-state solution eventually emerge, which we would all like to see, it will not stop Iran and Hezbollah in their anti-Semitic activities.

Against this background, it is impossible to believe that the so-called political wing of Hezbollah was unaware of what goes on. How can the political wing not be pulling the strings with Iran to produce 150,000 or more missiles and rockets in southern Lebanon, and digging six tunnels under the border with Israel? How can that possibly be thought of as a purely defensive action? Both wings are as one, both should be proscribed, and I hope we agree.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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I refer the House to my registered interests. I commend the Government on this important decision—it is the right one, and long overdue.

On 22 June 2017, after the al-Quds rally, where those yellow flags with the AK-47 were on the streets of London, I said in your Lordships’ House that separating Hezbollah into its military and political wings is an untenable and artificial exercise. The US, Canada, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council designate Hezbollah in its entirety—what do we know better than them? I asked whether it was not time that the UK demonstrated its commitment to combating extremism by joining our allies in proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety. I also wrote to the Home Secretary in those terms at the time. Some noble Lords talked about Australia; I noted in the press only today that the Australian Foreign Minister in London was interested in following what we are trying to do here today.

What has changed? Of course, I do not speak for the Government themselves. That question was asked by the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen during the debate in the other place on Tuesday, and today in your Lordships’ House. However, those asking the question were all seeking an answer from the Government about the behaviour of Hezbollah. What had it done—what terror atrocities had it masterminded to change the Government’s position and proscribe it in full?

Hezbollah has always been consistent and has not changed at all. It does not recognise the artificial exercise of a division between the military and political; it never has. When Members ask what has changed, they seem to want to discover a smoking gun. It is apparent that some would have preferred to continue to separate the so-called two distinct parts of Hezbollah, appeasing Hezbollah as if it was our friend. Very few of us would call Hezbollah our friend.

Over the years, the main reason given for this ludicrous position was to maintain our relationship with and support for the Lebanese Government and to be able to continue to provide the necessary aid to Lebanon, because, as has been said, Hezbollah had members elected to the Lebanese Government. That was the reason given, but I assert that it was an excuse to do nothing, not a reason. Many other countries that have proscribed Hezbollah in full have connections with and work with the Lebanese Government without any problem whatever. It was an excuse, not a reason.

As an aside, my response to Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon is very clear and was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg. It does indeed play a significant role in Lebanon: it has 150,000 rockets and missiles embedded in south Lebanon, facing Israel.

There is a simple and clear answer to the question, “What has changed?” In my view, the change is as refreshing as it is important. The change is in the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary. We have Ministers of integrity, with the courage to ask questions and seek explanations on advice they receive.

Sometimes, policy can drift and we can find ourselves in a time warp where policy remains unchanged as if we are in a fantasy land, rather than facing up to reality. Our policy on proscribing Hezbollah was in such a time warp, until the change was made by Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Gavin Williamson. They should be praised for making this important change. This legislation is important as it shows the rest of the world that the UK is a safe country to do business with and supports the global economy by mitigating terrorist risks. In our constant fight against terror, they have ensured that our Government are in the right place. This gives me great hope for Britain’s future post Brexit as a world leader in a turbulent and dangerous world.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, although I agree in principle with the order proscribing Hezbollah for precisely the reason that the noble Lord just spelled out—Hezbollah does not make a distinction between the political and military arms of its organisation—I should like to insert a tiny protection for freedom of expression. I think it is true to say that once one proscribes the political arm of any organisation, one tends to relegate the debate to more violent areas rather than encourage those disagreements to be discussed around the table.

I will cite one small example: a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in the early 1980s or late 1970s. It concerned a small town outside Chicago, Illinois called Skokie, in which lived a number of people who were Holocaust survivors. A neo-Nazi group decided that it wanted to demonstrate in that town, which was of course highly offensive and provocative. The ACLU took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the march should go ahead simply because it was entirely possible for those survivors of the Holocaust to avoid the march by closing their curtains, shutting their doors, going away for the day or whatever it might be. The reasoning behind that was that if one were to prevent the march going ahead, it might well force the marchers, rather than staging a political demonstration, to become more violent.

I say this because we must be mindful in this day and age that there are enormous and horrendous threats to free speech. We ignore them at our peril.

Hamas

Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 31st October 2017

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, it does not require a court process but an application to the Home Secretary.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, it beggars belief that we are discussing, in the centenary week of Balfour, talk of removing Hamas from the terrorist list. The organisation has not renounced terror and it still calls for killing Jews and the destruction of Israel. Does the Minister agree that any reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, which should be welcomed, should require that Hamas be disarmed, because Israel certainly cannot be expected to negotiate with a terror group that calls for its destruction?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, our policy on Hamas is very clear. The group must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. We now expect to see credible movement towards these conditions, which remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged. We call on those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage the group to take these steps.

Terrorist Attacks

Lord Polak Excerpts
Thursday 22nd June 2017

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I think the commission itself needs to explore the work that it is doing, and those deliberations are certainly in train. Whether legislation is needed as a result will become clear in due course.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, at the Al Quds march in London on Sunday, Hezbollah flags were displayed in direct contravention of Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Separating Hezbollah into military and political wings is an untenable and artificial exercise. In fact, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council designate Hezbollah in its entirety. In the wake of the awful deadly terror attacks against civilians in our country, is it not time that the UK demonstrated its commitment to combating extremism by joining our important allies in proscribing this terror group in its entirety?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My noble friend makes a very similar point to that made earlier by Robert Jenrick MP in the other place. Displaying those flags is certainly distasteful. It was probably designed to aggravate, and I certainly understand the concern that people might have when such things are thrust into the community. There is a big difference between a different political opinion or view, and putting that into action, and how far that has gone to this end. I certainly share my noble friend’s view that that was certainly an attempt to goad people and make them feel very uncomfortable, particularly the family of Robert Jenrick, whose wife is Jewish.

Hate Crime

Lord Polak Excerpts
Wednesday 14th September 2016

(4 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, the Government have engaged with non-Abrahamic faith communities and will continue to do so. In Manchester in July, in my previous role, I held round-table events with victims of hate crime, including members of the Sikh community alongside other faiths. On Monday, my noble friend Lord Bourne also hosted a round table to discuss hate crime with Sikh organisations as the latest engagement with the Sikh community. We find such round tables a good way to discuss widely concerns on hate crime and look at a variety of issues and approaches. However, while we know that there are common issues across the strands of hate crime, we also accept that there are issues that affect communities specifically. I and/or officials will be very happy to meet the noble Lord to discuss his concerns. On religious literacy, we have talked about this in the past. People such as the media have a role to play in improving their religious literacy.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, sadly, we are all too aware where hate crime can lead. Will my noble friend join me in welcoming the launch of the international design competition for the national memorial and underground learning centre commemorating the Holocaust, announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister earlier today and officially launched in 15 minutes’ time by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities, next door in Victoria Tower Gardens? Would my noble friend also agree that this memorial and learning centre aim to inspire future generations to respect and embrace difference, and to fight prejudice and hatred?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I most certainly join my noble friend in welcoming this announcement and the fact that my right honourable friend Sajid Javid will be launching it in about 10 minutes’ time. My noble friend is absolutely right that these memorials do not just serve to help us remember. The education centres alongside them ensure that our children and the children of future generations know the horrors that went on in the past and, we hope, learn from them for the future.